A/N: Wow, this one took me a loooong time to write! But here it is! I would like to really emphasize that this is NOT SLASH. Just really strong bromance here, people! I hope you enjoy it!
Disclaimer: If I owned the Avengers, Coulson would have made an epic return at the end of the movie. Did he? No? Then I don't own.
"Ahh, that feels much better." said Tony with a contented sigh as he stepped onto the quinjet that was waiting on the roof of Stark Tower. The billionaire, now free from his Iron Man suit, stretched out his sore limbs with a groan. After defeating the latest threat who was hell bent on destroying humanity- this time being a group of laser shooting robots, so nothing out of the ordinary- it felt nice to take off the Iron Man suit.
"Will this thing even still fly?" Steve asked Clint, who was sitting in the pilot's seat, as he joined Tony in the back of the jet. The Quinjet had sustained some serious damage during the fight and had definitely seen better days.
"'Course it will," called Clint, although the unsure tone in his voice was less than reassuring.
"Ya Cap," Tony added. "the thing was only tossed into a few buildings and hit with some robots and lasers. What's so bad about that?" Steve, being very accustomed to Tony's sarcasm by now, merely ignored the man and took his seat.
Clint held a hand up to his headphones. "Alright, guys. Nat says that Banner and Thor are in her jet and they're ready to go." The archer flipped some switches, starting up the quinjet's engines and trying not to look too surprised when the abused machines sprung to life without much fuss. "Let's get to the helicarrier and get this debriefing over with so we can sleep. I don't know about you two," Clint suppressed a yawn. "but I could go for a nice coma right about now."
The two men in the back nodded in agreement as the jet took off and ascended into the sky.
They rode in silence for about ten minutes, even Tony being too tired to keep up his normal stream of sarcasm. Steve's eyes had just closed, allowing him to fall into a sort of half conscious state, when a sudden hissing sound caused them to snap open again.
It didn't take long for him to identify where the sound was coming from. The back hatch of the quinjet was slowly falling open and strong gusts of wind were suddenly whipping around the inside of the aircraft.
"Clint, I know it was a bit stuffy in here, but this is ridiculous!" shouted Tony over the roar of the wind.
"The door controls aren't responding!" Clint called back, pounding on multiple buttons in a desperate attempt to shut the hatch.
As the door opened wider, Steve noticed that Tony was standing very close to the ever widening opening.
"Tony!" Steve yelled. "Get away from the door!" Tony looked over at him in confusion.
"What?" he called back.
"You're too close to the door! You need to get-" a sudden and extremely strong gust of wind ripped its way through the jet, knocking Tony off his feet and right out the door.
"TONY!" Steve bellowed as he jumped up and sprinted to the opening. He grasped a metal pole and leaned far out, looking frantically around for the billionaire. Steve heard a yell to his left and snapped his head around to be met with the sight of Tony, clinging desperately to a railing on the side of the jet.
"Hold on!" the captain called as he carefully made his way outside and around the quinjet.
"Wasn't planning on letting go!" Tony shouted back. He was mentally berating himself for not keeping his Iron Man suit on. That could definitely come in handy right about now. Dread was building up in Tony's stomach as he could feel his hands begin to lose their grip. He stole a glance at the city below him. It was a long way down.
As Steve navigated his way to where Tony was hanging, he couldn't stop the flashes of memories that attacked his mind. This whole situation was so horribly similar to that awful day seventy years ago on the train with Bucky that he thought he might be sick. Steve could hardly see the difference between Tony hanging hundreds of feet over New York and Bucky hanging hundreds of feet over that snowy canyon.
Steve was jolted out of his thoughts when he slipped and nearly lost his grip on the jet's hull. 'No.' Steve thought harshly. 'This is not going to be like that. I am not going to let my friend fall. Not again.'
Tony watched as Steve nearly lost his grasp and sucked in a sharp breath. The soldier was keeping up a good pace, but Tony was quickly slipping. 'He's not going to make it to me in time.'
Steve was almost there. Just a few more feet…
Tony was now just barely holding on. He looked over at Steve, who reached out a hand that was so tantalizingly close, yet just out of Tony's grasp.
The captain reached as far as he could. Tony gazed up at him and the look in the billionaire's eyes filled Steve with horror. It was a look of fear as well as a dutiful acceptance. They both knew what was coming seconds before it happened.
Steve stretched as far as he could. Tony reached out for Steve, there fingers mere inches apart. Tony could feel his hand finally slipping away from the railing.
"NO!" cried Steve as he tightened his grip on the jet with one hand and lunged forward, reaching for Tony in one final desperate attempt with the other.
Just as Tony closed his eyes, distantly wondering how badly this death was going to hurt, he felt a firm grip latch itself around his wrist.
His descent to certain death was suddenly jerked to a rather painful halt and he just swung there for a moment, not daring to open his eyes yet.
When Tony felt himself being pulled up, however, he cracked his eyes open to see it was Steve's hand that was holding his wrist in a death grip. His eyes traveled further up to Steve's face, which was scrunched tight with strain as he slowly made his way back to the door, carrying Tony.
After what seemed like a lifetime, the super soldier finally pulled Tony back through the door and into the quinjet. They both knelt there on the floor, gasping for breath and attempting to calm their nerves.
"Jesus Christ, guys!" called a rather frantic Clint, who was now using a manual overdrive to shut the hatch. "I thought we'd lost both of you for a minute there!"
The door sealed shut with a click and the rough wind abruptly stopped. Tony replied after he had caught his breath. "It takes a lot more than that to take out two of Earth mightiest heroes! Isn't that right, Cap?" When Steve didn't reply, Tony looked up at him to see the man staring back unblinkingly. "Um, Cap? You alright there?"
Tony was seriously considering the idea that he had broken the captain when suddenly Steve launched himself forward and enveloped Tony in a tight embrace.
"I swear to God Tony, if you ever pull shit like that again, I'll kill you myself." he mumbled into the older man's shoulder. Tony, who was quite surprised by Steve's sudden display of emotion just sat there frozen for a moment before awkwardly patting the man on the back.
"So, if I almost die again, you'll kill me? That kind of defeats the purpose of saving me in the first place, does it not?" Tony said with a bit of a forced chuckle. This wasn't the first time that Tony had almost died. It happened at least twice a month. This wasn't even his closest call. As Steve pulled away somewhat sheepishly, Tony stared questioningly at the younger man, whose eyes were shining with unshed tears, and wondered just what had made this time stand out from the others.
Steve saw Tony's questioning glance and internally berated himself. None of the others were aware of the circumstances of Bucky's death, so they would have no idea why he was reacting so extremely. 'Not that you should be reacting this extremely.' he scolded mentally. 'You caught him this time. You didn't let him fall.' Despite these thoughts, however, Steve still couldn't shake the feeling of almost letting his best friend fall to his death again and was suddenly very reluctant to let go of Tony.
"Alright, well," Tony put a hand on Steve's shoulder and looked him in the eye, deciding to let the man's unusually open demeanor slide for now. "Thanks, Cap." he said sincerely.
Steve stared at him with haunted eyes for a moment longer before giving a jerky nod and standing up holding a hand out to Tony.
Tony took the offered hand and pulled himself up. He and Steve sat down heavily on the bench farthest from the door, not moving or speaking again until they got to the helicarrier.
"What the hell happened to you two?" asked Natasha as Clint, Steve, and Tony met up with the other three Avengers on their way to the debriefing room.
Tony and Steve looked at each other, noticing for the first time their rather wind swept appearance and haggard expressions. Tony's hair was more of a mess than usual and Tony noted, with a hint of something that was definitely not concern for his teammate, that Steve still had that haunted look in his eyes.
"Clint decided to pop a window and I did a little unexpected skydiving." Tony said quickly and Natasha looked to Clint for a real explanation.
"The door controls malfunctioned and Tony fell out. Steve went out and got him." Natasha rolled her eyes.
"Of course we make it through robots without a hitch and you two nearly kill yourselves on the way back to base." she mumbled as they continued down the hall and into the conference room.
The Avengers all struggled to stay awake during the routine debriefing. In fact, the only thing keeping Tony from taking a nap right then and there was the worry- well, it would be worry if Tony Stark had emotions- for their captain that was growing in his stomach. Every few minutes, Steve would steal a glance over at Tony as if he was expecting the man to disappear any second or something.
Finally, the debriefing was over and the team made their way back to Stark Tower, all of them already half asleep by the time they got there.
Tony sat up in his bed, grudgingly giving up on the idea of sleep. As tired as he was, he just couldn't get his mind or nerves to calm down. I guess that's what almost falling to your death does to you.
He swung his legs off the bed and trudged his way down to the lab. He might as well do something useful while he was up and had promised Clint that he would make some modifications to his quiver for some time now.
When Tony got to his lab, he settled himself behind a work table and began his work, allowing his mind to completely relax and operate on autopilot.
The sound of the lab door opening caused Tony's head to snap up and Steve, the last person Tony expected to see in his lab, walked in.
"Hey, Tony," the captain said somewhat self-consciously as he made his way past pieces of technology that Steve couldn't even begin to understand.
Steve stopped in front of Tony's work table and the two men stared awkwardly at each other for a moment before Steve cleared his throat.
"So, ah, what are you working on?" he asked in a vain attempt to sound nonchalant. Tony stared at the soldier for a moment longer before replying.
"So you came down to my lab at," he stole a glance at the clock on the wall. "three forty in the morning to see what I was working on?"
Steve winced slightly. It really did sound strange when Tony put it that way, but how could Steve tell him that he just couldn't get the image of Tony falling out of his mind and currently, the only way of convincing his mind that the annoyingly endearing billionaire was still alive was to be with him?
"Well, I, um…" Steve stuttered. "I just wanted to make sure that you were ok after, you know, what happened on the jet." Alright, so that wasn't a complete lie.
Tony took a sip of his coffee. "This isn't the first time I've almost died. You know that, Capsicle." Tony put down his mug and picked back up the screwdriver. "I don't know why you're making such a big deal about it this time." He let out a laugh. "I mean, you're Captain freakin' America. It's not like you would have let me fall!"
When Tony didn't receive a reply, he looked up to see Steve with his head bowed, eyes shut tight, and shoulders tense.
"Steve?" Tony made his way around the table and stood in front of Steve.
"You're wrong." the captain replied darkly. Tony scrunched his eyebrows in confusion. "You're wrong, I've done it before."
"Done what before, Steve?"
"Did your father ever tell you about a Bucky Barnes?" Tony was taken by surprise by the seemingly random topic change, but he answered,
"Uh, ya, he mentioned him once or twice." Tony said, thinking back to the old stories. "He was your right hand man, right?" Steve smiled a bit, but it was a small, sad smile.
"He was much more than that. He was my best friend for practically my whole life." Steve's smile grew a bit. "If it wasn't for him than I probably would have been beaten to a pulp a long time ago." Tony waited for a moment as Cap seemed to replay some old memories in his head. When it didn't seem that Steve would be continuing without some prompting, Tony spoke up.
"What happened?" Tony almost regretted asking when the smile fell from Steve's face and guilt filled eyes looked up at him.
"We were on a mission on a train. It was all going well until Bucky… he was blasted out. We were speeding along a cliff side, but he managed to grab onto the outside of the train, just like how you grabbed onto the outside of the quinjet." Steve swallowed thickly "I tried to make it out to him, but I was too slow. I- I was being too careful and he- he-" Steve's breath hitched and he wasn't able to continue.
Suddenly, it became horribly clear to Tony why this particular brush with death had shaken Steve so much and he looked to his guilt ridden leader with sympathy.
"Shit, Steve," Tony stepped forward and wrapped his arms around the captain's still tense shoulders.
"I'm sorry," Steve apologized in a shaky voice. Tony just tightened his grip as Steve's muscles remained as taught as a bow string.
"You have nothing to be sorry for, Cap." Tony said soothingly, which was strange because Tony Stark did not do soothing.
Steve lifted his head and looked at Tony, his blue eyes shining with unshed tears. "But Tony, I almost didn't catch you. I almost let you die just like I let Bucky die!" Steve ducked his head once again, not wanting the other man to see him cry.
"Steve, look at me," When the younger man refused to raise his head, Tony took the captain's chin in a gentle but firm grip and lifted his head. "It's not your fault that Bucky died." Steve tried to look away, but Tony maintained his grip. "There is nothing you could have done about it, Steve. There's no way you could have gotten to him any faster and if you had been any less careful, you would have fallen too."
Steve finally managed to pull his chin out of Tony's hand and shook his head. "At least I would have died trying."
"Steve," Tony said the name firmly, demanding the other man's attention. "If you would have fallen off that train and died, then all of us and a pretty good chunk of the world's population would be dead too." Tony put his hands on Steve's shoulders in a reassuring manner. "Believe me, I know it's hard, but you have to let go of the past. Honor Bucky's memory by not just thinking about his death. Remember all the good times you two had while he was alive. From the stories my dad told me, it seems like you wouldn't have too hard a time remembering some good times." at this, a small, happier, smile graced Steve's features and Tony smiled to as he squeezed the younger man's shoulders. "See, what did I tell you? As always, I'm right again. Now," Tony steered Steve towards a stool and sat him down, Stark seating himself in the stool on the captain's left. "why don't we have a good old Cap story time and you tell me about some of the uproarious adventures of Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes." Steve raised his eyebrows and smiled, taking a deep breath before beginning to talk.
"I will never forget the one summer Bucky and I tried to build a cart to ride down the big hill on the south end of town. God, we had no idea what we were doing, but that didn't stop us from trying…"
Several hours and multiple hilarious stories later, Steve and Tony found themselves in the kitchen, getting breakfast ready. A weight seemed to have been lifted along with the spirits of both men. As Tony carried on a debate with himself over what flavor syrup he wanted and Steve flipped the pancakes, Tony looked over at the captain, a sense of, well, he was Tony Stark, so it wasn't fondness… ok, it was fondness. He could no longer deny it. Although he would never admit it out loud, Tony knew that his friends were the only exceptions to his steadfast 'Tony Stark will experience no emotions that might be considered overly sentimental' rule.
So, did Tony find it incredibly cheesy when Steve made an Avengers 'A' out of chocolate chips in the pancake as it seared on the stove? Absolutely. But, when Steve showed his artistic side through little, and admittedly corny, actions such as this, did Tony find that it was a rather endearing quirk and allow himself to feel this emotion?
Yes, because Steve was a friend, and therefore an exception to the rule.